CEO at ABAKUS Internet Marketing
07 September 2003 21:47pm
Hi all, it was suggested by e-consultancy that I post here an article I recently wrote that focuses on forums and their potential for search engine traffic if search engine friendly. I hope you find it useful :-)
Forums & SEO
The adding of a search engine friendly forum to my ABAKUS Internet Marketing website, was probably the most singularly effective thing I did with regards to bringing in traffic, particularly from search engines, to my website.
I can tell you that apart from the ABAKUS home page, the next most popular entry page to my site, by quite a wide margin, is one of the forum topic pages. With more than double the amount of the next best entry page which is my popular tools page, it is fair to say that without my forum, I would lose at least a third of my traffic!
To give you an idea as to the power of forums, check out the following search term exactly as is it is below in the Google search query box.
The result you get is… http://www.google.de/search?q=site%3Awww.abakus-internet-marketing.de+inurl%3A%2Fforen%2F
Each and every one of the ~14,700 pages indexed is a potential entry point to the my website site.
If you are impressed with that, consider how much search engine traffic Webmasterworld.com gets with over 56,000 indexed pages! Each of which again provides material in which webmasterworld will get found on the search engines.
Don’t forget, no forum thread pages are duplicated and each topic will have its own specific title. What is really the clever part, is that others add most of the content/pages for you!
Once a search engine friendly forum is built, it doesn’t take long for it to grow to the position where each day 3-5 new pages with unique, commonly thematic, pages are created. I think you’d agree with me, that this has to be THE best way to create very many new web pages that if search engine friendly, will produce a great deal of additional traffic.
The aim of this article is to take you through the 10 steps that you need to go through in order to start your own successful search engine friendly forum. The subject you create your forum on is completely irrelevant, as long as it is search engine friendly, merits public discussion and you know how to market it (also covered). Within a month or two, you are going to find you are getting an increase in search engine traffic, and your forum is going to be increasingly the entry point to your website.
The first thing to do is to make sure you can install a forum on your web server. Commonly you require PHP, although some forums are PERL (CGI) based, and a popular database. The most common database is MySql which is supported by the majority of forums and web hosts. Once it is established from your web host that PHP and a database are in place, you need to consider web space. A forum over time can grow quite large.
Choosing your forum should not only take functionality into account, but also the ability to modify it with a view to search engine friendliness.
Important: ALL forums that I am aware of require some modifications to make them search engine friendly!
A good list of the freely available and commercial Forum software can be found here… http://directory.google.com/Top/Computers/Bulletin_Board_Systems/Software/
In my experience, the best free forum, taking features and the ability to make it search engine friendly into account, has to be PHPBB (www.phpbb.com). Currently in version 2.0.6.
Probably the best commercial forum, with regard to power and search engine friendliness, is Vbulletin. Avoid Perl language forums such as Ultimate Bulletin Board (UBB) or Ikonboard. They are not impossible to make se friendly, but are considerably more difficult and less effective. I personally chose PHPBB because it had a large support forum and because there already existed details on modifying it with a view to search engine friendliness. PHPBB also has all the functionality, style flexibility and add ons (Mods) that you are ever likely to need.
Whatever your forum choice, check that there exists the possibility to make it search engine friendly.
Follow the installation instructions of your forum. If you have chosen PHPBB, then it is pretty straight forward as long as you know basic details such as your database name and database login details (username and password). Try and install your forum as close to the root directory as possible Eg. www.yourdomain.com/forum/ Instead of www.yourdomain.com/theme1/forum/. You may wish to name the install directory with a keyword if it is of a specific theme, such as in the made up example below. www.gamesconsoleworld.com/playstation-forum/
Careful thought needs to be taken as to your category and particularly your Forum names. These should not be changed regularly so should therefore be given careful consideration and got right at the start. Needless to say you should name forums using your top keywords. If you only have the one or two main keywords, be sure to repeat them as forum names. An example on say a fictitious games console website might be 'Playstation Cheats Forum', 'New Playstation Games', 'Playstation Accessories', etc.
On most forum admin areas, you can give your forums a description as well. Again think SEO and choose descriptions that use your keywords. Eg. “Playstation and Playstation 2 Cheats and Walkthroughs.”
Although not vital for the optimization, you do need active, friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable moderators if you don’t want to do it all yourself. Have in mind who you want to moderate your forum and only pick those that aren’t afraid to start their own threads. This is vital if you are to get registrations. Most forums flop because the moderators/administrators don’t know how to do their jobs properly and don’t know how to draw new members into a forum dialog.
Once your categories and forums are named, and you have used the forum administration tools to get the ‘look and feel’ you like, it’s time to make the forum search engine friendly. This varies from one forum software to another. Each of the main forums however have their own support communities and many will have their own instructions on how to modify the forum to be search engine friendly. For PHPBB for example there is a huge support forum with threads on SE friendly modification, complete with easy to follow instructions. For virtually all forums, a main priority is to be able to kill the session ids for search engine robot visits. For PHPBB the following thread gives you instructions on how to accomplish this. http://www.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=252424
Full discussion on the modification can be found here, it is a VERY long thread though. http://www.phpbb.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=32328.
For Vbulletin, check out the following thread and also the ‘Similar Threads’ links at the bottom. http://www.vbulletin.com/forum/showthread.php?t=62899
Flattening urls (no ‘?’ or ‘&’ in the url), is also a possible on Vbulletin boards. As far as I'm aware, there is a need for Apache mod_rewrite to be available for vBulletin. Mod_Rewrite is not only useful for forums but also for online shops. Product pages with flat urls (no ‘?’ or ‘&’) get crawled deeper and faster than dynamic urls with query strings in them. Google can manage to crawl dynamic urls but rarely goes deep and rarely where there are over 2-3 parameters. Guess why Amazon changed their whole product url structure to a flat basis. It was purely for the search engines.
Once the forum is modified to be search engine friendly, in most cases that is all there is to it. You can however speed things along by adding features like “The last 5 Threads” on your home pages (see http://www.abakus-internet-marketing.de/en/). This is not only a great way to get new members but also helps search engine spiders find threads for indexation. I not only did this on my German and English language home pages but also have, at least for my German language forum, a special url which acts as a feed for Google on all the threads… http://www.abakus-internet-marketing.de/foren/list.php
If you are interested in the code just pm me and I’ll send it to you.
Once the forum is search engine friendly, and you have done all you can to help the spiders find it, now what you need to do is attract new membership and get people posting in your forum. A good idea is to start a thread in each of your new forums which end in a question or at least definitely invite an answer. You can start for example with a controversial subject which some guests may feel strongly about and feel the urge to become a member and post. Other ways are to post in usenet with your forum in the signature. Be sure you post something useful and don’t just plug your new site/forum! It is normally best in fact to answer someone’s question proving you are knowledgeable in your subject, rather than start your own newsgroup thread. In time, once you’ve gained respect, you can then mention your forum in a post. Create a ‘NEW’ link on preferably all your webpages directing to your forum in a prominent place. Get a few friends to help you start it up. Don’t contrive questions and answers, just ask them to honestly ask questions they may have or add comment as much as possible. Once a forum gets started, then you normally find it will grow and grow as long as you’ve got the right moderators or you yourself have good communication skills. There was a time when my German forum got only two or three new posts/replies a day. It is now averaging around 50-60 per day.
Think SEO when you are starting threads and answering them. Use thread titles that use your keywords. The same goes for replying, get your keywords in there. As admin or moderator, don’t get into the “what do you think?” as a thread title way of posting. Far better is “Opinion please on the Playstation 2 Mod Chip”.
In short, always think SEO when titling new threads and when replying as well.
Be patient! Google will take its time, but will get around to indexing all your pages within a month as long as you have it correctly linked up from your other pages. Every page on your main website should link to your forum either as a footer link or in the normal navigation. Be sure you have very knowledgeable Moderators and make sure they are active in posting at least two to three new threads per day. It will take about 2 months, but then you will find traffic from search engines landing onto your forum pages. VERY important is to give a visitor that landed on your forum page the chance to easily get to your main website home / product pages. PHPBB by default does not install a ‘home button’ for example, so I added one on mine. I also added full navigation in the footer of my forum as well. A good exercise is to take a look at a thread and think as if this was the first page you came to on your site and you now wanted to find out more. Is it obvious and easy to get to your main pages?
It is work, but from start to finish I could personally install a search engine friendly Forum, with no session ids for Google and flat urls in under an hour (I have done it a couple of times before mind :-).
With just about all forums, there is a way to flatten urls using what is known as the Apache Mod_Rewrite function. This is not for the inexperienced, but is something I am writing a stand alone article on, and it will be released within hopefully the next couple of weeks. It is essentially “An idiots guide to Mod_Rewrite” and will help all those with very SE unfriendly urls, such as dynamically generated shops and content from CMS systems etc.
ABAKUS Internet Marketing
What's a website without traffic?
CTO at Econsultancy
29 September 2003 13:25pm
You mentioned in your post the use of Mod Rewrite, and other URL rewriting tools to help forums & other areas of one's site be more Search Engine friendly. You also said you were in the process of writing an article on this.
I thought you may find this link http://ihelpyouservices.com/forums/showthread.php?threadid=8271 of interest when writing your article. It shows that Google does not use the underscore as a word breaker, therefore as many sites use URLs such as http://www.site.com/about_us.asp, Google will not index the two words about & us from the URL, but will index the word "about_us" which is of no relevance to people's searches. The URL should then follow the format http://www.site.com/about-us.asp.
Therefore I would suggest as a rule of thumb that the recommendations for URLs should be to use a hypen or a plus as a word breaker, and end all URLs with a simple document extension such as .html. Hence the URL should not contain a fullstop anywhere within the part of the URL after the first / and before the protocol indicator.
Would you agree with this?
Also, if you did agree with this, what would you suggest for people who want to implement these changes to their sites. Although changing every page name & URL rewrite to reflect these rules, how would you try and deal with the problems of external links now linking to pages which no longer exist?
29 September 2003 14:12pm
You raise some good points. The hyphen is a delimiter whereas the underscore is not so "keyword_keyword2" is evaluated by google as a single word "keyword_keyword2" whereas "keyword-keyword2" is counted as "keyword keyword2".
If all your pages are in the format of "keyword_keyword2" the solution would be as follows:
Rename all files to the search engine friendly version "keyword-keyword2".
You then need to let Google know that these pages have been renamed/moved so as to avoid duplicated content issues and of course to resolve any 404s resulting from a page name change.
This is done with .htaccess using the 301 permanent redirect command.
In your .htaccess file add the following for a fictious file name change from keyword_keyword2.html to keyword-keyword2.html
Redirect permanent /keyword_keyword2.html http://www.your-domain.com/keyword-keyword2.html
For a lot of pages this going to be time consuming. It is however the best solution as far search engine indexation of the changed pages is concerned. Of course where possible change the links on your site to point to the newly named pages.
Googles help pages actually recommend the use of 301s for moved pages (http://www.google.com/webmasters/4.html) and it is known that in time they will inherit the pagerank of the older pages and for those linking to the page it is also the best solution.
A search here...
for "301 redirect" will give you more info on the 301 redirect than you can shake a stick at :-)
BTW, a forward slash is also a delimiter (handled by google as a space). I replied to a post at SEOchat.com which may be of interest to you. It highlights how you can make the most of this fact.
Hope that helps.
3) save the file to your hard drive
4) upload to your root directory on your host server.
5) rename the file to ".htaccess" (without the quotes)
6) test it to make sure it works!
On 13:25:56 29 September 2003 matt wrote:
>You mentioned in your post the use of Mod Rewrite, and
>other URL rewriting tools to help forums & other areas
>of one's site be more Search Engine friendly. You also
>said you were in the process of writing an article on
>I thought you may find this link
>=8271 of interest when writing your article. It shows
>that Google does not use the underscore as a word breaker,
>therefore as many sites use URLs such as
>http://www.site.com/about_us.asp, Google will not index
>the two words about & us from the URL, but will index
>the word "about_us" which is of no relevance to
>people's searches. The URL should then follow the format
>Therefore I would suggest as a rule of thumb that the
>recommendations for URLs should be to use a hypen or a
>plus as a word breaker, and end all URLs with a simple
>document extension such as .html. Hence the URL should
>not contain a fullstop anywhere within the part of the URL
>after the first / and before the protocol indicator.
>Would you agree with this?
>Also, if you did agree with this, what would you suggest
>for people who want to implement these changes to their
>sites. Although changing every page name & URL
>rewrite to reflect these rules, how would you try and deal
>with the problems of external links now linking to pages
>which no longer exist?
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